Rock Guitar Riffs

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One of the coolest unspoken rules about rock guitar is that everything is a riff.

Rock guitar is nothing if not a series of riffs. Let’s say you’re a rhythm guitar player in a band with a smokin’ lead guitarist. And let’s imagine you’re chugging away on a B5-A5-G5 pattern while Josh “Yngwie” Patterson is going bananas in the Phrygian mode on his Jackson Flying V. Even though you’re merely holding up the backdrop with power chords, whether you realize it or not, you’re playing riffs. Actually, Yngwie is playing riffs, too; he’s just playing them at light-speed in comparison to your eight chugs per measure.

Growing up in the 1970s, it’s impossible to name the first big rock guitar riff that knocked my socks off, but Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” was the first jam that made me think, “Hey, I really want to know how to play those riffs!”

Now, think about it. I’d already heard the Kinks “You Really Got Me” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, and those were great jams, too. Every time you turned on the radio in the 70s, your odds of hearing a brand new killer guitar song were almost 1:1 – even money. But there was something about “Black Dog” that caught my ear and wouldn’t let go.

Nowadays, I don’t hear so many new knock-your-socks-off guitar riffs. It seems like a tremendous amount of rock music has abandoned the great guitar riff. The few jams that actually contain decent guitar playing also seem to be rehashing classic riffs from the past – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, a tremendous number of those old school guitar licks were based on recycled blues riffs. Seriously, nearly every Led Zeppelin song contains at least one riff that Jimmy Page “borrowed” from someone else. In fact, the start and stop a cappella verses of “Black Dog” were inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” (1969). However, my point is: Nobody is trying to re-write “Black Dog” anymore, and I think that’s a damn shame.

If you believe that there is nothing new under the sun then you probably aren’t a guitar player; because if there’s one thing I do know for sure; the potential for guitar riffs is infinite. There is no end to the number of rock guitar riffs that haven’t been written. At the same time, there are probably somewhere in the vicinity of a billion ways to come up with riffs, and I’d like to share just one:

Look at the main riff from “Black Dog”


Black Dog_1.jpg

Now, isolate the first two bars of the riff:


Black Dog_2.jpg

Play this in a cycle. Play it in 4/4. Slow it down. Speed it up. Play it backwards. Move it up and down the neck. Substitute notes. Add another riff. Cut the last two notes – D and E – so that you get this:


Black Dog_3.jpg

Also you can check out this VIDEO GUITAR LESSON ON BLACK DOG

Repeat the above actions. If you’re particularly crafty, try playing it in parallel thirds. Just play with it. Experiment. Make mistakes, but make no mistake about it: This is one time-tested and proven method for writing new guitar riffs.

If learning songs on guitar is your goal, I recommend you to check out these courses:

GUITAR SONG COLLECTION